3 Rules for making great Cover Songs

Making a good cover takes more than virtuosic skill or a sense of irony. If you’re covering a song you’ve got a reason and that needs to come out clearly in your version of the song. Many of the covers on Musicalis Eclectica break or bend one or more of these rules but it’s a given that there are always exceptions to rules; generally speaking, these points define what I look for in a cover.

1 – Be Original: the Cover Artist must bring something fresh to the original song, whether it be supplanting the song into another genre or casting it in a different light through context, tempo, musical colour, etc.

Why? Why should I listen if you’re going to just remake the old song note for note? (I’m looking at you, favourite band of my youth, Faith No More ;_;) It either won’t be as good or it’ll be a carbon copy and I’ll fall asleep during it.

2 – Have a Point: the Cover Artist has to have a reason to cover the song – and we need to see it, whether it’s simply a love for the original or an outright mock; the remake should make the artist’s intention clear and convince us that they really did have to make a whole new version of an old song.

Why? Whilst it’s unlikely that you wouldn’t have a point, what I’m trying to … err… point out is that you have to make your reasons clear to me. If your cover wasn’t particularly funny or it wasn’t an unusual take that throws the original in a whole different light then why am I being subjected to it?

3 – Respect the Original: “respect” doesn’t mean that the Cover Artist can’t make fun of a song – it just means that they have to know what worked musically and build off it or reference it in some way that makes it clear they’re not just slapping their own music on a more popular song to try and gain some fans. Usually, a Cover Artist is covering a song that’s well known and was once popular to some extent so they should have some degree of respect for the fact that the songwriter knew what they were doing.

Why? Well, if – for example – you’re only using the lyrics from the original song it’s a stretch to call it a full cover. And if you’re, say, a folk musician covering a hip hop song I need to see that you have a clue about the music you’re lampooning. Either you’re identifying beauty in the core melody and exposing that by supplanting the song to an unexpected format or you’re lampooning the extreme nature of the lyrics by applying a quaint style.

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